By Curtis Utz, Naval History and Heritage Command’s Histories and Archives Division
The Halsey-Doolittle Raid in April 1942 was the first strike by U.S. forces against Japan itself. Vice Admiral William F. Halsey commanded the carrier task force that included 16 U.S. Army Air Force medium bombers led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle based on HORNET (CV-8). These planes, launched from the carrier, would attack targets in five cities before flying to airfields in China. The plan was innovative but very risky; the Navy risked two of its three carriers in the Pacific to launch the attack. Despite the limited damage caused and losing all the aircraft, the strike was successful from a psychological point of view—the U.S had bombed Japan. The attack also ended debate within the Japanese High Command regarding a need to strike the U.S. base at Midway, which led to major changes to the war in the Pacific two months later.
While the leaders of the raid are often mentioned, and the critical role of the Navy in carrying the strike force is known, the role of junior Navy officers in the development, planning and training for the mission is often overlooked.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans wanted to strike back. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to retaliate by bombing Japan. There were few real options to even consider regarding an air strike–a Navy carrier would have to be involved. A carrier based strike was considered the only real solution, but the risk to the U.S. Navy’s carriers using their own shorter ranged aircraft was unacceptable. Captain Francis S. Low, Operations Officer for Commander-in Chief of the U.S. Fleet, Admiral Ernest J. King, observed flight activities at Norfolk, and thought Army Air Corps twin-engined bombers might be used on a Navy carrier. Low, a submariner, mentioned the idea to Admiral King, but was unsure of its feasibility. King told Low to work with temporarily promoted Captain Donald B. “Wu” Duncan, his Air Operations Officer. The Army Air Forces, led General Henry “Hap” Arnold, ordered Doolittle, a legendary air racer, engineer and test pilot, to work with Duncan on a how to use medium bombers from a carrier.
The aircraft options for the mission were limited, and the North American B-25B was the only aircraft that met the requirements for both mission and use on a carrier. Tests at Norfolk quickly showed that B-25s could not land on the carrier. Therefore the aircraft would launch from the carrier and, after bombing Japan, head for airfields in unoccupied areas of eastern China.
The B-25 was a new platform untested in combat, and flown by only a few squadrons. Doolittle, who had been assigned to organize the attack, selected a raiding force of volunteer crews from the four squadrons of the 17th Bombardment Group. They utilized special modified planes and began intensified training with them in Florida. Although an expert pilot, Doolittle relied on a Navy aviator, Lieutenant Henry L. “Hank” Miller to train the pilot on how to get fully loaded bombers off a carrier. An Alaska native, Miller graduated the Academy in 1934 and after flying from carriers was an instructor at Pensacola when selected to help train the Army crews. He went west with the B-25s to Alameda, California to embark on HORNET and accompanied them on the ship.
While the crews trained, Army Air Force specialists selected targets and developed intelligence packets for each. Much of the material these men relied on was based on work carried out Lieutenant (jg) Stephen Jurika. He was born in California, but largely raised in the Philippines, where he attended schools there as well as in China and Japan. A 1933 graduate of the Naval Academy and a trained pilot with solid language and cultural skills, he served as the assistant naval attaché for air in the Tokyo Embassy from 1939 until mid-1941. He used every opportunity, from attending official functions to playing golf to gather information; he was looking for targets and effective way to attack them from the air. Promoted to lieutenant just before leaving the embassy, Jurika soon became the intelligence officer of a new carrier, HORNET. By shear fate, he was on board the ship carrying the raiding force, and gave them additional information regarding their targets from both the view of a pilot and an intelligence officer.
HORNET and her escorts steamed west from San Francisco. En route they joined with ENTERPRISE (CV-6) and its task force commanded by Admiral Halsey, who took charge of the combined force. The plan was to approach to within 400 miles of Japan, launch the B-25s so they would arrive over their targets at night, and then head to China.
Early on 18 April, Japanese picket ships spotted the task force, 650 miles from Japan. Halsey ordered Doolittle to launch immediately so he could withdraw the carrier task force. By launching earlier than planned, the 16 bomber struck targets in five cities in broad daylight, but suffered no losses. Most the planes attempted to reach China (one flew to Vladivostok in the then neutral Soviet Union), but the crews either crash landed their planes or bailed out. Most of the crews escaped through China. The Chinese people in Chekiang province suffered brutal reprisals at the hands of the Japanese because they assisted the downed American aviators.
The Halsey-Doolittle Raid was a high-risk operation in many ways. Quickly planned and executed using techniques never before considered with a bomber model never before flown in combat, cooperation between the Navy and the Army Air Forces was critical. And some of the most important work regarding the raid was done by Navy men whose names are usually forgotten.
For more information on the Halsey-Doolittle Raid, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Additional Reading and Sources:
Craven, Wesley Frank and James Lea Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol. I. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.
Daso, Dik A. Doolittle: Aerospace Visionary Washington, DC Potomac Books, 200
Glines, Carroll V. Doolittle’s Tokyo Raiders. Princeton, N.J.: D.Van Nostrand, 1964.
Lawson, Ted Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, New York, NY, Random House, 1943
Thomas, Lowell and Edward Jablonski. Doolittle: A Biography. New York: Double Day. 1976.
On Line sources:
Raid on Tokyo: Doolittle Report. Central Decimal Files, 1939-1942 (bulkies), box 525. Records of the United States Army, Army Air Forces. Record Group 18. National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Collected documents on Doolittle Raid. Central Decimal Files, 1939-1942 (bulkies), box 188. Records of the United States Army, Army Air Forces. Record Group 18. National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
The Tokyo Raid. File 370.2, August 1, 1942 to December 31, 1942. Classified Decimal File, 1940-1942, box 525. Records of the United States Army, Army-AG. Record Group 407. National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Doolittle Raid. Classified Decimal File, 1940-1942, box 543. Records of the United States Army, Army-AG. Record Group 407. National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Aircraft Carrier Hornet (CV-8). RG24 Deck logs. October 20, 1941 to June 30, 1942. National Archives
Final Reports of United States Strategic Bombing Survey. (USSBS). M1013. 1945-1947. Pacific Survey. National Archive
Military Analysis Division. (Reports Nos. 61-71a)
Naval Analysis Division. (Reports Nos. 72 and 73)